AUSTIN -- Complete with a Big Tex and a Tyrannosaurus rex, Texans from around the state rallied once again to keep the theological concepts of creationism and intelligent design out of school textbooks.
"I want to make sure only the science facts go into our science books," said one participant, who told KVUE he traveled from San Antonio for Tuesday's demonstration outside the office of the Texas State Board of Education.
"The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that you can't teach creationism as science in public school classrooms, so the new strategy is kind of death to evolution of a thousand cuts," said Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network, which organized the event.
"What you have is folks appointed to the official review teams who have an ideological perspective and they're recommending debunked arguments to kind of water down the teaching of evolution and climate change in our books," said Miller.
"Presenting Darwin as facts would be nothing more than junk science," a creationism supporter testified inside the board hearing Tuesday to consider potential changes to instructional materials, including biology textbooks. Many creationism supporters argued that instructional materials should question Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
"You will strike the final blow to the teaching of evolution," said former board chair and outspoken creationist Don McLeroy, who aroused confusion among board members in his argument in favor of the current textbooks. Written under his watch, McLeroy says the instructional materials already weaken the arguments for evolution.
"Your position is that these books prove that evolution doesn't happen and you want us to adopt them?" asked board member Thomas Ratliff, who replaced McLeroy in 2010. McLeroy answered in response to Ratliff, "No. I did not say prove, I just said the evidence is weak."
After his testimony, McLeroy said creationists are unfairly labeled as anti-science, and insisted the facts can't prove Darwin's theory, despite peer-reviewed scientific evidence which overwhelming supports evolutionary principles.
"Most of the arguments the other side presents are just red herrings. They attack us ad hominem, that we're science deniers, that we're anti-science extremists or whatever you want," said McLeroy. "I'm sick and tired of their rhetoric. Give them the facts, why don't they give me the facts of evolution? Let me see the facts."
Ratliff predicts that with the current makeup of the board, the latest flap won't result in any significant changes regarding how evolution is taught in Texas schools. He argues the ideas of an omnipotent creator and evolution are not mutually exclusive, and both can coexist without another fight within the state board.
"I'm a solid creationist. I think the question is what do you believe in when you talk about creation? And I think so much of the heat and light in this issue is an 'either-or' discussion," explained Ratliff. "And I don't think that the vast majority of people out there believe it's an 'either-or' discussion."
"It all goes back to the origin of life, and some people want to argue one side or the other," said Ratliff. "I think the vast majority of us are saying it doesn't challenge my faith to talk about it."
The board will take a final vote on instructional materials under consideration in November. In the meantime, the Texas Education Agency has posted links to the materials on its website